Despite the recent trendiness of “farm to table” eating, and the careful accounting of “food miles traveled,” agricultural abundance and innovation are hardly new to Oregon. In fact, Portland’s riverfront cousin city just to the south is the proud birthplace of Bing – not Crosby, not Detroit Mayor/former NBA star Dave Bing, but Bing, the Cherry.
Yes, Bing, the Cherry, was conceived, born and raised in Milwaukie, OR. Seth Lewelling and his older brother Henderson Luelling (Seth changed the spelling of the family name) had moved out here from Iowa, Henderson with a cart full of fruit trees in 1847, Seth a few years later.
It was Seth who purportedly came up with the cultivar known as Bing, though whether credit goes to him or to his longtime orchard foreman, Ah Bing, is not clear. But Seth named the sweet black cherry they came up with in 1875 to honor Bing. And at this time, when relations between the U.S. and its Chinese immigrant laborers were less than stellar, that Lewelling credited the Manchurian Chinese-born Bing is significant.
Bing went back to China for a visit in 1889, but never returned to the U.S., evidently blocked by the restrictions of our country’s Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Things worked out better for Ah Bing’s namesake cherry, which now battles it out with Rainier cherries as Da Bomb of Northwest cherries.
Rainiers wouldn’t be here without Bings, though: they are a cross between Bing and Van cultivars. Poor things, they were developed not in Oregon but at Western Washington University, in 1952, by Harold Fogle. Good thing he didn’t lend his name to the new cherries. Rainier suits the thin-skinned, pale yellow, red-blushed beauties better than Fogle would have.
Cherries are excellent eaten out of hand, despite the mess of spitting out pits and discarding stems. We’re lucky to have such problems this time of year.